On turning 30

My 30th birthday came and went without too much of a quarter/mid-life crisis. There were definitely freakout moments, mind you, but it helped that there were lots of reasons to celebrate the new decade I’m entering.

I’ve been surprised at how frequently I hear that your thirties are often considered the best decade of your life. That’s (supposedly) when you get a lot more clarity about who you are and what you want out of life, and you aren’t afraid to set boundaries to live that vision out (or so I’ve been told). I almost get the sense that you get past the superficial view of how your life should look and instead appreciate what is.

In that respect, I’m excited to start my 30’s. It seems to go hand in hand with what my  “create” year is all about. I’ve recognized how important it is to cultivate attitudes, habits and a mindset consistent with who I want to be. It’s high time I stop wearing my busy badge all the time and calling that a life.

A couple weeks ago (on a day when I really needed to hear it) Liz Gilbert posted this fabulous message:

LG quote

I think it struck me because a lot of my twenties were spent trying to be someone who could handle everything (or as I liked to call it, being “well-rounded and dependable”). I wanted to be Superwoman because I thought it meant having a fulfilling/satisfying life, or at least that I wouldn’t miss out on opportunities. It seemed like a surefire way to make my mark on the world and embrace life to the fullest.

Not so much.

At times it was certainly rewarding and it looked pretty good on paper (again, that superficial stuff), but it also came with a lot of exhaustion and resentment. In fact, I think that’s why Gretchen Rubin’s secret to adulthood that “you can choose what you do, but you can’t choose what you like to do” resonated so much with me. I was spending time and energy on things I wasn’t really designed to do or that I even enjoyed doing.

And this is apparently the stage in life when you start figuring that out. Perhaps not coincidentally, just yesterday this blog post articulated a similar message about turning 30 and reinforced Gilbert’s post. How are you going to spend your life? How do you shift from doing everything to focusing on the key things that bring fulfillment and joy?

What’s interesting is that I progressed on my 30 Before 30 list, I found myself picking up on that. It mattered less that I hit an arbitrary number of books and was more important that I read books that inspired me or changed my perspective on something. Whether I got to visit a new state or not didn’t matter. I was more excited about my travel companions and our shared experiences.

In some sense, it became more about the intangibles. Case in point: my new board of directors role. It’d been on my list to join a board, but before signing the dotted line, I attended two board meetings, had a meet-and-greet with the director and went to a fundraising event to make sure it felt like a good commitment. I didn’t just want to add something to my resume or cross an item off my 30 Before 30 list. I needed to be sure it was value-added to my life (and thus far it’s definitely been that).

That seems to be how my sisters approached planning my birthday weekend, too, which helped me focus less on my milestone age. Through some long-distance planning between the middle and the little, the celebration was more than I could have ever imagined. The sisters planned out three days of activities consistent with my “create” theme and full of events, people and canines I love.

Among other things, I got to go to the “I love my dog” expo with Hurley, managed to get through an escape room (which I’d never heard of before) with five minutes to spare, experienced a fabulously made drink at the speakeasy, got a pedicure, and went to Bottom’s Up, a yoga class offered at our favorite brewery in town. (Not bad googling for the little out on the east coast!)

birthday weekend

The weekend, and other celebrations throughout the month, were really about being in the present and spending quality time with people who love, support and motivate me.

That, my friends, is how you bring on 30.

Although there’s still a bit of apprehension, I think I’m actually ready to take on the new decade in life. Let’s see if it lives up to the hype. 😉

(For those who are curious, there were five on-going goals on my 30 Before 30 list that I started but didn’t quite complete. And based on the content of this post, you probably guessed that I’m more than okay with that.)

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A long December (and subsequent long post)

I think one of my first acts of the new year will be purchasing a new laptop… Not having one has really put a damper on my blogging, among other things.

Lately I’ve had the song “Long December” by the Counting Crows stuck in my head. Not that the month was particularly long or that 2015 was bad year necessarily. When it comes down to it, I think the year was a challenging one for me and more often than not, I felt like I was being reactive more than proactive. As a Type A control freak, you can imagine how that left me feeling most weeks. And I admittedly didn’t handle it well.

I’ve spent a lot of time (almost to the point of overthinking…) considering what my word should be for 2016. By noon yesterday, I had a list of about 15 words and started worrying. None of them stood out to me and I was running out of time. Seemed ironic that this approach and mentality was similar to how I’d done most things in 2015.

Thankfully (as I was scrolling through my facebook newsfeed of all things), I came across a word that struck me. I knew I’d found my word.

Create.

This year is about creating routines, habits, attitudes, opportunities and relationships that allow me to better create the kind of life I want. Last year I felt like I was consistently saying I didn’t have time, I didn’t have the money, I didn’t have a positive attitude. I want to reverse that this year and create them. I have more power than I give myself credit for sometimes and it’s time to put myself back in the driver seat, as it were.

Given I’ve only had my word for about 24 hours, I haven’t outlined specific goals (that will hopefully come this weekend). Really, though, I think this year will be about trial-and-error as I figure out what works best for me. How do I strike a better word-life balance? How can I push myself outside of my comfort zone without exhausting myself? Am I comfortable and satisfied with how I spend my time?

There are three things that I’m going to start implementing right off the bat for experimentation, all compliments of the little (one of the perks of our fantastic in-person visits!).

The first is a new nightly routine. Based on Gretchen Rubin’s latest book on habits, I’ve decided to set an alarm to signify that I need to start getting ready for bed during the week. I’m really bad about pushing myself up until the very end, wanting to soak up every minute of my time at home during the week nights.

Unfortunately this impacts my sleep. I’m also tired of putting pressure on myself to be productive all. the. time. That left me feeling anxious for most of the year, and I’m ready to shake that feeling.

To hopefully counter that, I’m going to set aside a solid 20 minutes each week night prior to going to bed to allow time for stretching, some minimal toning (planks, pushups, etc.), and a creative task — coloring, journaling, meditating, reading, etc. I’ve got a whole list to choose from and may even create a jar with those options on popsicle sticks for the nights when I can’t decide what to do. I’m hoping that helps prepare my mind and body for bed, not to mention the added perk of creating a more consistent (and earlier) bedtime for more natural energy in the mornings. Fingers crossed!

The second aspect I’m going to incorporate is utilizing the Day One app (or something similar, since my Mac died and I’m not sure I’ll be getting another Apple computer). I knew going into the new year that I wanted to have a gratitude journal of some sort, something to help me capture the positives in my life instead of continually being focused on what’s next or what hasn’t been accomplished. What’s great about this is I can include a photo with entries, making the journaling process a bit more unique and easier. Even better? You can export to PDF and have a printed copy of the year. This should be a good activity (perhaps even as part of my new nightly routine) to make sure I’ve taken some time to reflect on the day.

I’m probably most excited for my last experiment. The little introduced me to the Passion Planner, and within a day, the middle created us spiral-bound copies through the first three months so we could give it a shot. Although I’m not sure I’ll use the hourly schedule part of it (I already have my outlook calendar and a big calendar at the office), I’m really excited to set a focus for each day and even the week. The challenges for each week should also be helpful for making sure I’m on target in terms of not letting myself and my goals fall to the wayside. Less reactive, more proactive.

Putting all those into writing makes me feel a bit overwhelmed at what I’m introducing into my life in the next few days. That being said, I think it’s the change I need to start creating a life where I feel more balanced and less anxious. Last year was a challenging year, but I also had an incredible amount of lessons learned (particularly with the leadership institute). Now it’s time to start applying what I’ve learned to take things to the next level.

Bring on 2016!

Great recipes, terrible technology

This will have to be relatively short and sweet given my technology malfunctions. I’d been wanting to blog about this since Wednesday, but my personal laptop has been on the fritz for a week (right now it won’t even fully boot up…) and my work laptop was with our IT department up until about noon yesterday.

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been wanting to make a concerted effort to be intentional about the meals I’m making. (In other words, it’s time to ditch the reliance on crockpots and get back to cooking given I actually enjoy it.) Although I got the baseline recipe, if you will, from Pinterest, the other two meals I tried this week came directly from the author who inspired me to make the change.

I have to admit that I’m really proud of Sunday’s meal — one pan chicken with white wine and olives. In part it’s because I’d had an offer to go to HuHot and I turned it down in lieu of cooking a homecooked meal (primarily so I could have leftovers at lunch the next day). I’d been a bit nervous about this since I’m not a fan of dry white wines and chicken thighs tend to be hit or miss for me. But it was a lot of fun to pull together.

chicken bake

What I did love was having the lemons bake on top of the chicken! I’ve seen that a handful of times but just never did it. I probably shouldn’t have added the kalamata olives, but the carrots were a nice addition to the recipe.

chicken bake (2)

The leftovers weren’t quite as good, though it could be that it just lost some of it’s appeal in my Tupperware container and using a plastic knife. But I have to say, going back to cooking was a much-needed shift. And I hardly used a can of food this week!

Tuesday  night is when I started with my baseline recipe of mini buffalo chicken tacos. For some reason I have trouble buying frozen foods like chicken tenders or pizza. Instead, I did a quick google search and found a decent recipe for homemade chicken tenders. I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly I could whip those up — and adding buffalo sauce to the egg mixture seemed to help give it even more flavor.

chicken tenders

I also found a quick recipe for coleslaw dressing. I’d picked up broccoli coleslaw mix at the grocery store instead of buying a pre-made option.

FullSizeRender

Oh baby. This was delicious. The one downside is that the leftovers aren’t quite as good. My coleslaw ended up a bit soggy (especially by yesterday’s lunch) and the chicken tenders (not surprisingly) don’t stay crispy. But the flavor was still there and it was such a nice twist on tacos. I actually think this might make for a good salad so I may have to experiment with it a bit more.

I’m glad I held out on my final recipe until later in the week. Wednesday was an incredibly long day at work and I was so looking forward to spin class that evening. I knew it would recharge my batteries — plus I hadn’t been in two weeks. Sadly a traffic jam meant that, despite leaving 40 minutes before the class started, I was barely at the halfway point of getting to the gym when it was time for class to start.

I made my way back home feeling angry (livid is probably a better word…) and defeated. And what better way to set the world right than with a one pot cheesy spaghetti and meatballs.

You guys, I had no idea meatballs could cook in the sauce like that! Game changer. I’d also never considered adding ricotta cheese to my typical spaghetti dish. I have to say that I’m a fan. Although I didn’t find the noodles used in the actual recipe (I wanted to but my attempts at the grocery store were in vain). Instead if was my typical whole wheat angel hair pasta.

spaghetti

Although it took a little bit more time post-gym, it was nice to be back to cooking. We’ll see what the recipes for next week hold. Given my faulty and intermittent computer opportunities, meal planning may be particularly challenging. (Not good given it’s a task I dread each weekend anyway but I do it because the benefits are ten-fold during the week!)

And on a completely unrelated note, Hurley met his new cousin last week. Swoooooon! This was one of the only few non-blurry photos of them since they kept rough housing. It gets a little overwhelming (and I would not be surprised if they knock over the middle’s tree at some point…) but it wears him out, which makes me a happy mama.

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Thankful Thursday #20

Yesterday I “graduated” from the leadership institute I’ve referenced in a few of my blog posts, and quite honestly, I couldn’t think of a more deserving Thankful Thursday topic.

A little more than a year ago I showed up for the three-day kickoff retreat, unsure of what I was getting myself into. All I can say looking back is that I absolutely ended up being at the right place at the right time.

It almost seems like magic. Aside from the four individuals in my cohort who work in the state office building (who I now pow-wow with on a regular basis), I have literally spent all of 10 days over the course of three retreats with my cohort of 26. And somehow they feel like family.

What drives that is likely the depth and range of conversations we’ve had over the course of the year. To say we got up close and personal is an understatement. We took no less than five assessments (including a 360 assessment, which is intense in and of itself) to understand our personality, behavioral and thinking preferences. After receiving results, we dove into group discussions and pair-and-share conversations about what that means for ourselves and how it’s perceived by those around us.

Lame as it sounds, the leadership institute was probably one of the most challenging things I’ve done. Not in terms of the amount of work necessarily, but certainly the depth. It’s hard to be vulnerable with people you hardly know. It’s difficult to come face to face with your weaknesses, particularly in a “professional” setting. Each one of us was stretched beyond our comfort zone, and we became stronger for it.

What I loved about the institute is that it went beyond learning about our preferences and a specific set of skills, like crisis communication and conflict resolution. We were empowered to explore and then embrace our strengths and also our weaknesses. The whole experience felt like life coaching, career counseling, mentoring, leadership development and a support group all wrapped up in one.

I can’t even begin to articulate how thankful I am for the experiences I’ve had through this institute. The friendships gained, the lessons learned and the growth I’ve had in the last year is truly remarkable. For the first time, I’ve embraced what I bring to the table (and that includes being an introvert!) and recognize that value within teams. And for me, that’s huge.

leadership

It also didn’t hurt that my go-to lady in the institute also has an adorable yellow lab with an equally impressive vertical jump. I’m telling you — right place at the right time. ❤

Blood, sweat and tears (quite literally…)

August was apparently a big month for me in terms of completing projects. After I finished my big evaluation report for work, I used the couple of days I took off to focus on finishing up the never-ending DIY project.

This is by far the largest DIY project the middle and I have taken on to date. And I should be clear right up front that this would not be complete without her. It was a true labor of love that tried our (but mostly my) patience every step of the way. If she weren’t my voice of reason, this would very likely be in pieces at a bon fire. There were points where it got that ugly.

But let me start back at the beginning.

When my parents downsized earlier this year, they decided to get rid of my mom’s crafting table, which was previously our family dining room table. I’d always loved the gorgeous pine wood and figured I could spruce it up a bit for my own dining room. (I tried to find a photo of our original table, but most included unflattering photos of the middle and I’m not about to make those public given how much she contributed to this project).

My mom has also been intrigued by painting furniture, so she decided to paint it blue before passing it on to me given how worn down it was.

full before

Normally something like this would work in my house, given I have a pink entertainment center, a teal desk and love color. Thanks to Pinterest, though, I fell in love with a particular style. The minute I saw it, I knew that’s what I wanted. This was a close second since it would match the style of my table a bit more.

And thus the project began. The weekend after Memorial Day weekend, the middle and I started the process of stripping paint – which let me tell you, takes a hell of a lot longer than I thought. All I can say is thank goodness for the middle. She searched which type of paint stripper was best, so at least we had a fantastic product. (Seriously, if you ever need to strip paint, which I hope to never do again, buy this. It doesn’t burn you at all or smell terrible).

For the first round we lathered the paint stripped all over the table and chairs, covered it with garbage sacks and let it sit overnight. (We also did her wine rack too, which took considerably less time.)

Paint stripping

Initially we were excited by the results. Peeling it off was actually kind of enjoyable, particularly when we could see the wood coming through — even under the original blue of the chairs.

Round 1

Unfortunately, as the day wore on, I became substantially less excited. There were areas the paint stripper dried, making it difficult to make much progress. Also, trying to strip paint off a table top, four table legs and six chairs in one afternoon? Not at all smart on our part… Lesson learned: take it one or two pieces at a time.

Over the next few weeks we continued to chip away at the paint, trying to get as close to the original wood as possible. It helped to have the spray-can version of the paint stripper. We’d lob it on a section of a chair, wait a couple minutes and then keep peeling away. We also tried another brand of paint stripper, but given the number of times I burned myself even using gloves and trying to be careful, it wasn’t worth it. The orange wonder seemed to do the trick on it’s own.

I won’t lie that I had a handful of weak moments where I thought about just buying new chairs for the table. Having to deal with this level of detail (particularly on the chair legs and the design on the chair back) was just too much. So many curves and crevices. Plus it was incredibly messy (I will say mineral spirits helped with that a bit). And this was just phase one!

chair back

chair side

Somehow after a few weeks (probably because of the middle…) we prevailed. We’d reached a point where we’d stripped about all that we could, signaling it was time to move onto the next phase of the project: sanding.

Ready to sand

The middle also saved the day in borrowing tools from her boyfriend’s family so we could have two electric sanders. I don’t even want to imagine what it would be like trying to do it by hand with sheets of sanding paper.

I’ll be honest that I lost a little motivation during this phase. Especially with the detailing sander, it took a lot of focus and I felt like I wasn’t seeing any real progress. It was exciting to see the wood smoothing out so well, though.

Sanding detail

At this point we put the table on hold for awhile. I knew, though, that we had to finish the project sooner rather than later (if only because my sister and her boyfriend would want to park in their garage at some point…). My motivation perked up again when the middle sent me this picture while I was on my way back home from my training in California that first week in August. Isn’t is insane how much difference sanding can make?!

anded table

And with that, it was time to start priming. The middle even created a great corner to make sure I could spray without ruining anything in her garage or the driveway (which I may have done during the paint stripping phase…).

Priming

Naturally nothing with this project was easy. After spending a full afternoon taping around the spokes of the chairs and covering the seats (to avoid getting any paint on the wood we planned to stain), I loaded up the paint sprayer and was ready to power through priming. Except nothing happened. In 50 minutes all I managed to accomplish was two strips of wood on the bottom of the table top.

I called it quits, coming back the next day with a new paint sprayer. Long story short, that sprayer was a bit too powerful (one of the chairs is a lasting reminder of that…) and thankfully the old one started working. In the course of an afternoon, I knocked out all the priming. Finally it felt like I was seeing progress!

(And as I did with my entertainment center, I’ll put in a plug for paint sprayers. Absolutely worth the investment, especially on projects like this!)

Primed

That weekend was also when I narrowed down my paint options. Guys, I had no idea how many shades of off-white there were! It was incredibly overwhelming. I knew I didn’t want any color tint to it (gray, blue, pink, etc.). I also didn’t want it to be too beige or tan, since the wall color in my living room borders on a creamy yellow. Plus my two sources of inspiration had pretty crisp white.

Finally I settled on bone. I won’t lie — I had my doubts once it was painted. It was was a bit more white than I intended, though the middle mentioned that perhaps doing a gray or cream primer may have helped make that more subtle. (I say that like it’s a tip to remember in the event I’m ever crazy enough to take on an endeavor like this again.)

Selecting a stain also proved to be a struggle. I didn’t want to go too dark, since I already feel like the wood in my house is overwhelming dark. But I wanted something that had just enough contrast to the white. After three trips to Menards, I finally found a shade I liked: hickory.

That brought on it’s own moment of panic. The stain I loved was a gel stain, which I’d never worked with before. (To be honest, it’s not like I’ve worked with much stain anyway. I’ve only done my coffee bar and that was under the supervision of a pro…). And the employee just kept saying, “It’s all about what you prefer.”

I decided to be brave and run with the gel. We started by putting a pre-stain on all the furniture. Then came painting on the gel…which promptly resulted in me googling tips for applying gel stain. The directions said to wipe the excess after three minutes, but that resulted in a not-so-ascetically-pleasing (read: ugly) finish. We (and by we I really mean I) almost scrapped the gel stain idea, but I’m thankful I didn’t.

One tip that helped is the comparison that liquid stain is like spreading butter on toast. Gel stain is like spreading peanut butter on toast. So long as we had the right consistency, we didn’t have to wipe the excess after three minutes.

About an hour later, the staining was done. And that’s when I really fell in love.

Half chairs stained

Chairs

In the next day or so, we made final touch-ups to the stain and the white paint on the spokes near the seat. I will say that if you’re ever in this type of predicament, definitely paint before staining. It might have even been that day that we polyurethaned all the chairs (all the days of working on this project started blending together after while). But finally, something was done! So we celebrated.

celebrate

We saved the table top for the very end. This is where staining really counted. I’d feel okay about screwing up the bottom of the table or even one of the chairs. But the table top is really where I needed to bring my A-game.

light top

Once the stain dried, I was a bit anxious when I saw how streaky/uneven it was. The middle used some mineral spirits on it the next day, which helped a tad. We also applied a second coat, which seemed to even it out quite a bit. Finally, a week and a half ago, the middle applied the polyurethane to the table top. There was no turning back!

final table top

This past Saturday morning I applied the final coat of polyurethane to the table. The final step should have felt substantially more rewarding. Why was it not, might you ask? I discovered a flaw in my plan. Googling confirmed that, unfortunately, oil based polyurethane will turn white paint yellow.

Yes, you read that right. White paint will turn yellow, which is exactly what happened to my chairs.

I kid you not, I about broke down in tears right then and there. I reached the finish line, but it wasn’t the table I’d worked so hard to rehab. But I was also the first to admit I was burnt out on the project and no way in hell was I started over on those chairs.

Thankfully, the lighting in my dining room is dark enough that you can’t really tell it’s yellow. It looks more like the off-white I’d been envisioning, though I’ll likely reassess whether I want to repaint it when I move at some point in the (hopefully not so immediate) future. But I still have to admit it looks fabulous in my dining room — especially with my newly created canvases!

final

final 2

I love the burst of white in my dining room and the contrast the stain has to the white (well, technically yellow…). It definitely matches the look I was going with, so I’d consider this a major Pinterest win (minus the yellow, of course).

And just a few more photos for good measure — is this transformation not amazing?!

Chairs Before and After

Table Before and After

Pinterest photo

With that, I’m retiring from DIY projects for the time being. As my mom jokingly says, it’s been real, it’s been fun, but is hasn’t been real fun. But I will say I am pretty damn proud. (And another big shout out to the middle!) I think this ups our DIY cred.

Quite the ordeal

Let me tell you, making this tamale pie recipe over the weekend was quite the ordeal — and not because of anything I did.

Given I’m on a salsa kick, I was excited to try this new recipe since it includes another one of my favorites: cornbread. Plus this was the first time I’d made it from scratch. Even when I was getting groceries earlier in the day I was tempted to just get a box of cornbread mix, but I figured since I had the time, I should give it a shot.

The cornbread was baking as I finished with the ground turkey. I’d also decided to add black beans and a bit of enchilada sauce to that as well for more flavor. Five minutes before the cornbread was done with the first round of baking, my power went out.

What are the odds?

The oven was warm enough to where it baked the cornbread as well as it could have. The edges were starting to brown and it had a good consistency to it (so thank goodness I went with the 9×13 pan or it might have been too thick). I added on the enchilada toppings and waited. And waited some more.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if I weren’t already hungry, smelling how fantastic it already smelled and smothering a dog during the hail portion of the storm. Have I mentioned how much poor Hurley hates storms? He wasn’t quite as intrigued by the size of the hail as his mama was…

Thankfully an hour later, the power came back on and Hurley could relax (at least a little). My first order of business was preheating the oven to get my tamale pie going again. Twenty minutes later, I finally had dinner.

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Not that I was expecting it to, but I’m happy to report it didn’t effect the flavor of the dish. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the pairing. Certainly I’ve had corn tortillas with tacos/enchiladas/etc. so I figured it would have a similar taste. The cornbread was much more prominent but still incredibly delicious. I may actually add this to the lineup of staple dishes I make (not that I tend to have many of those, though. I guess I’m just a sucker for trying something new each week).

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Although it was somewhat of an ordeal, I will say I was lucky in that the power was only out for an hour and while it was still (relatively) light outside. Other people in my spin class the next morning had it much worse…

Speaking of ordeals (since you all know how much I love to take and post photos of my little bear), Hurley also had a big to-do of his own this weekend. A trip to the dog park on Saturday morning kicked his allergies into high gear. An oatmeal bath and benadryl didn’t do the trick, so back to the vet we went (at their insistence).

Selfie at the vet? Why not. At this point I’ve lost count of how many trips we’ve had in the last year and a half. Although the silver lining to this is I’m slowly getting over my fear of going to the vet. Hurley, on the other hand, is less typically less than impressed (he hams it up quite a bit in the waiting room, though).

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There was also one more big development this weekend (after overcoming several, several ordeals), but you’ll have to wait another day or two for that reveal. 🙂 I can’t wait to show it off!

Beauty in Books 8 and the secret of life

I couldn’t entirely decide which direction to take this post, so I can’t promise it will be cohesive or flow well (and it definitely won’t be short). But it’s something that I’m slowly connecting the dots on in my own mind and wanted to share.

About a week ago the middle and I were watching Girl Meets World (you can laugh, but the show is surprisingly good and very reminiscent of our TGIF days). One of the episodes focused on discovering the secret of life, which Cory Matthews claims is simply that “People change people.”

In some ways that’s very true. I couldn’t even begin to count how many people have shaped and influenced me, whether they’re family members, teachers, colleagues or even dogs. Throughout my entire life, people have absolutely changed me.

I’d argue, though, that another big secret of life (and one I think we often forget) is that you can change yourself.

A few years ago, when I was probably 40 pounds heavier and hadn’t fallen in love with group fitness classes, I asked the middle if she could ever see me, honestly and realistically, running a 5K. After a few moments passed, she said no. I can’t remember her exact explanation, but it essentially boiled down to the fact that while I probably physically could someday, I didn’t seem to have the gumption to actually train and accomplish it. And she was right. At my size, I honestly didn’t believe I could.

Liz

(As a total side note, I sent this to the middle and the little about two years ago as part of our Woof Wednesday health motivation emails. The little replied with a “From what corner of hell are you dragging these out?” Reading it still cracks me up! And I should probably apologize for now making it public…)

Flash forward to yesterday, where the middle and I ran a 5K together. It’s my second one, though this one had far less training on my part but surprisingly a much faster time. That’s change, my friends.

Kolor Run

I firmly believe you can change yourself, but I think it’s important to know yourself first. A co-worker and fellow life chatter of mine has a quote on her desk that we often reflect on that, in some ways, applies here — to be a good leader, you have to know people. To know people, you have to know yourself.

In comes Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin. It essentially outlines a range of research about building and sustaining habits, in part based on your personality. This is a succinct version, but I was struck by the four tendencies she outlines at the beginning of the book. Not surprisingly, I’m an obliger. (The middle is likely a rebel, which is why she did a whopping two runs before showing up for the 5K yet still kicked butt.)

That’s when things started clicking for me. A little more than a year ago I posted about my weightloss journey and mentioned a big part of my success has been because of group fitness classes. Finding physical activity I love to do did make a big difference. But do you know what I think made a bigger difference? Having that external accountability from the instructor and others in the class.

“Because Obligers resist inner expectations, it’s difficult for them to self-motivate — to work on a PhD thesis, to attend networking events, to get their car serviced. Obligers depend on external accountability, with consequences such a deadlines, late fees, or the fear of letting other people down. … Obligers need external accountability even for activities that they want to do.” (pg. 22)

Even though I love kickboxing and spin, a huge motivator for me is knowing I’ve got instructors who will ask where I’ve been if I’ve missed one too many classes. Heck, I love that my old kickboxing instructor in Columbia “likes” all the activities I log on MyFitnessPal. It’s why I religiously track my workouts in Excel and love my FitBit. I need that external accountability. In the case of the 5K, it was having a specific date for the run and knowing the middle was counting on me.  That’s what works for me (though knowing this years ago likely would have saved me a lot of time and energy…).

There’s another concept within the book that really resonated with me as well. It’s this notion that often our habits and behavior are in line with what others think of us and what we think of ourselves.

“Research shows that we tend to believe what we hear ourselves say, and the way we describe ourselves influences our view of our identify, and from there, our habits. If I say, ‘I’m lazy,’ ‘I can’t resist a sale,’ ‘I’ll try anything once,’ ‘I never start work until the last minute,’ or ‘I’m lucky,’ those ideas become part of my identity, which in turn influences my actions.” (pg. 239)

Just a few sentences later I had another a-ha moment: “For years, I thought of myself as someone who ‘hates exercise,’ but at some point I realized that I hated sports. … Thinking of myself as someone who ‘enjoys exercise’ allowed me to change the way I viewed my nature, and that helped me to become a regular exerciser.” (pg. 240)

That’s exactly how I was. It required a mindset shift on my part. Just because I disliked sports and gym class growing up didn’t mean I had to dislike all exercise for the rest of my life. Hell, I’ve reached a point where I almost identify myself as a jogger (and I say jogger because running still seems a bit too intense and implies that I’m fast, which is again an identity thing). It almost reminds me of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Continually tell yourself you’re not able to do a 5K and, chances are, you’re not going to be able to.

It’s all incredibly fascinating to me, but the thing I always want to keep in mind is that it’s still up to me to make that change. I show up. I push myself. I make it part of my life. I’ve had and still have people supporting and motivating me, but ultimately it was me that had to change. And I think that’s why Rubin’s book resonated with me so much. It’s about recognizing your preferences, identifying potential pitfalls and barriers, then finding ways to work around it so that you can create an environment and lifestyle that’s consistent with your goals.

Perhaps knowing that you can change yourself isn’t such a big secret to life. Maybe it’s just that we need a few tricks up our sleeve and reminders of our amazing capability to do so. And I definitely had a good reminder of that yesterday.

Starting fresh

I knew going into May that the month was going to be a marathon, not a sprint. And I was absolutely right. Although I’m finally feeling like I can catch my breath, my brain is still playing catch-up (aided heavily by coffee). Long story short, this blog post is a bit lengthy but provides mostly includes snippets and photos (primarily because I’d been updating it throughout May so I wouldn’t lose the recipe links).

As mentioned in one of my previous blog posts, the month started out with travel frustrations and a sinus infection that knocked me on my ass. I honestly don’t remember the last time I felt that sick. It did, however, provide the perfect opportunity to try a spinach tortellini tomato soup.

Tomato tortillini

My view is probably a bit tainted in that I couldn’t really taste anything. I think I just prefer soups that have a bit more substance, though, so making it more like a chili would be more up my alley. At least it hit the spot for my sore throat.

I tried to get up and running the next week with helping the middle paint and move into her new house. It also coincided with work picking up for our CDC site visit. To keep myself going that week, I made a slow cooker turkey and wild rice casserole. I figured it was a good way to have some comfort food while also getting in some protein and veggies. It was hard to talk myself into eating leftovers after a long day, but it was much easier than having to whip up something else and less expensive than eating out (again).

Turkey rice

The three days of the site visit proved to be exhausting but oddly enough energizing. It was great to put faces with names and have two-way dialogue about our work. I’m not one who’s typically comfortable tooting my own horn, but I also had a fantastic #careergoal (as they say) moment during that visit. Twice (on the first day, no less) CDC staff jokingly asked if I would move to Atlanta. I also get to be part of a pilot evaluation project, which I’m beyond excited about. Have I mentioned I love what I do?

I’m also still loving my involvement with the Alzheimer’s Association. The third week in May wasn’t as hectic work-wise but volunteering picked up with two evening meetings (naturally it was the only month where both the committee meetings fell in the same week). One of those, however, was primarily a crafting meeting. My committee decided to create promotional fans for the Jazz in June events that we have a booth for each Tuesday night in June. I love having such a creative bunch!

ALZ fans

Then came the really hard part of the month. One week after the middle moved, my parents started their moving process. (We almost hit the trifecta given I moved just two months ago, so lots of life changes.) This one was a bit harder in that we’d been there for 23 years. It’s hard to say goodbye to your childhood home, especially with how much we all loved it, but there’s some excitement in the opportunity for a fresh start. Last weekend we also squeezed in a wedding and family photos, which turned out super cute. I especially love this sisters picture, taken by Perry Imagery. The funny thing is all three of us saw a similar photo on pinterest and loved it. Before we even had a chance to suggest it, the photographer lined us up and got the shot.

sisters

Needless to say, last week I’d reached my limit. Not even coffee helped refuel my mind or body. Enter the sour cream noodle bake. Comfort food that’s simple to make and reheats well. It was almost a cross between spaghetti pie and the lasagna skillet I made a couple months ago. The sour cream was an interesting twist, but I didn’t not like it. It certainly kept it creamier than I think it would have been otherwise for leftovers.

Pasta

Heading into the weekend, I finally started to get back on track. I even tried a Jazzercise class (though much prefer my Combat and spin classes, which were pretty hit and miss in May…) and started spring cleaning my house given it’d been relatively neglected for a month.

And through it all, I snuggled up on Hurley any chance I got. He’s been a trooper with all my schedule fluctuations and traveling. (If he doesn’t look overly happy in that photo, it’s because he isn’t. He was picking on his cousin so mama stepped in to break them apart for a few minutes. The fact that he stayed in that position for a few minutes is pretty impressive.)

Hurley

To say I’m ready for normalcy again (if there even is a normal) is an understatement. I’ve decided to give myself a fresh start this month, focusing heavily on self-care. I’ve also made it a goal (for health and financial reasons) to only eat out one time each week in June. Oh, and there’s also that 5K in two weeks. Because who wouldn’t let the middle talk her into training for a 5K in the midst of everything else? YOLO?

Marathon May, completed.

(I almost feel like I should quote Chevy Chase from Christmas Vacation — “Hallelujah! Holy shit! Where’s the Tylenol?”)

Intentional scheduling

As I’m trying to establish somewhat of a new routine, my focus of being intentional is shifting from my house to my schedule. (Primarily because I no longer have to dedicate my free time to packing or unpacking boxes!) I’m trying to be more strategic in how I schedule my days to hopefully maximize my productivity and balance.

A few weeks ago my life coach had me track my energy levels throughout the week. Using the energy levels log template I found on this website, I created my own tracking system in excel (naturally…) and was really surprised by the results. I actually found that on days when I work out at 5:30/6 p.m., I’m usually at a level 7 or 8 while I’m working out. The hour leading up to it, though, I’m only at a 2 or 3. No wonder I have to muster up a lot of motivation and accountability to get myself to the gym!

Having this information allows me to be more intentional about when I tackle certain things in my life. I shouldn’t aim to start a new project at work or make a personal budget on a day or during a period of time when I naturally have lower levels of energy. Those are the times when I can focus on less draining activities, like laundry or organizing my work inbox.

Not that there is always that flexibility or option, though. I can’t schedule every meeting I have during periods of high energy/engagement. But I can make small tweaks. I’ve noticed, for example, that my energy level really drops right before lunch. My solution? Scheduling my walking break with a co-worker around that time.

What was also an interesting discovery for me is that there were times when I would have high energy levels (in part due to coffee…) but couldn’t really capitalize on it because I didn’t have much focus. Those were times when I’d try to tackle half a dozen things but not really accomplish anything (probably because I got overwhelmed by having four draft emails, two excel spreadsheets and three word documents open).

As luck should have it, I was reflecting on all of this around the time that I was reading Life Makeovers by Cheryl Richardson. (My life coach was inspired to become a life coach because of this woman, so naturally I had to read a few of her books, too.) It helped me have another “a-ha!” moment when it came to focus and my need to cultivate that more:

“Teaching yourself to stay focused on one project, goal or opportunity at a time will not only allow you to be more productive and effective, it can also challenge you to go more deeply into the task at hand and bring forth more creative insight and wisdom. Too often we try to ‘cover all the bases,’ respond to every opportunity, or provide every possible service that someone might need, in hopes of striking success. But the truth is, long-term, sustainable success often comes from the ability to stay focused on one project or goal at a time.”

That’s what I’m hoping to be more intentional about in the coming weeks, particularly at work. On any given day, I’m dealing with at least five different program areas. On Thursday afternoon, for example, I had back-to-back meetings. The first focused on evaluating early childcare education nutrition standards, the second on data collection for our diabetes prevention program evaluation plan and the final on patient-centered medical home clinic transformation.

I don’t mention that to complain or toot my own horn. I love the diversity of my job and the fact that I’m helping evaluate so many different facets of chronic disease prevention and control that collectively could help individuals lead healthier lives. But I can tell you it takes a toll on my energy levels and what I feel I’m giving to each program.

As I mentioned earlier, I can’t always control when all my meetings or webinars are scheduled. What I can control, though, is how I spend my non-meeting time at work. Perhaps on Mondays I focus just on school health and on Tuesday I look at our diabetes prevention programs. Would creating a structure like that enable me to be more intentional and focused with the projects I’ve got at a given time?

That will be my area of focus for the next couple of weeks. Then I’ll move on to the larger focus of my life schedule since it does extend beyond just work. I love that Richardson mentioned that we try to cover all our basis and offer any service to others in hopes to gaining success. Hello, well-rounded over-achiever! In fact, one of the current “assignments” from my life coach is to identify all the balls I’m juggling and look at which ones (whether it’s volunteer opportunities or specific classes at the gym) I might be able to drop. I’ll have to plan for that activity when I’ve got a higher level of energy…

Intentional living space

I’ve been somewhat quiet about my word for the year, though I can assure you it’s not because I’ve forgotten about it or put it on the back burner. I’d be lame and say it’s because I’m trying to be intentional about what I post about my pursuits, but that’s not the case either.

Having to move did throw me for a loop in terms of kicking off the year. The things I thought I would get to focus on in terms of intention (time and energy were the big ones) fell to the wayside a bit. But it’s also been a perfect opportunity to be intentional about something a little different — and something I probably wouldn’t have considered otherwise. Right now I’m trying to be intentional about my living space.

Last week I took a community education class on feng shui, which was actually my second class on it with the same instructor because I find her so engaging. Plus it’s an interesting way to think about home décor and de-cluttering. One of the big points she stressed (though I’ve heard it elsewhere before) is that everything in your house should be useful, sentimental or beautiful. When I walk into my house, does it feel like home? Does it reflect me? Are there any items that spur negative emotions (the example the instructor gave is high school year books if you hated high school) that I can toss or donate?

Despite purging quite a bit last year when I moved to Lincoln, it’s ridiculous how quickly stuff can accumulate again. And thankfully this time around my level of sentimentalism (if that’s even a word) has decreased a bit since my move this time is 5 minutes instead of 5 hours. I can be more intentional about what stays and what goes. Have I actually used all my clothes, kitchen items and crafts in the last year? Am I honestly going to look through my economics or foundations of new governance notes again?

Those tend to be more rational questions, though. This time (although I’ll preface that it sounds a bit new age….) I’ve been aided by what I learned in my feng shui classes and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up to focus on how I feel about objects. (Again, I know it sounds strange.)

As an example, though, I love my custom-built kitchen counter (hello new coffee bar!) and my entertainment center (which will likely become a new color in the next couple weeks). Those are pieces that were crafted with hard work and family, that are specific to me and what I love. You couldn’t pay me to give those things up in the move.

But there are also items that I’m not crazy about or that don’t necessarily bring out those positive emotions. That’s where I’m trying to be more intentional about sending them on their merry way.

With seemingly perfect timing, just a couple days ago someone on facebook posted a #40bagsin40days challenge. I immediately decided to embark on it to help with this process. Not only will it help me with packing and setting up my new house, but it will also help me accomplish my 30 Before 30 goal of going through my photos and computer files. The focus of just one area a day (though the next few days are about to get hectic with that), helps me take baby steps and not feel so overwhelmed with all the clutter (though it’s primarily the electronic clutter that’s driving me nuts). Just yesterday I whittled my work inbox down to nine emails. NINE!

But I digress.

I think part of the reason I was so resistant to moving is that I love what my home became. For the first time since leaving my parent’s house a decade ago, I feel like my living space finally reflects me and the things I love. But my hunch is that will happen much faster in my new home. I’ve been given another opportunity to purge and be intentional about what goes where — with more space and a sunroom!

your home

If only the long process of packing and physical moving didn’t come first…

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